Changes: New Year, London and Bowie

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(picture courtesy of V&A)

 

January, they say, is a depressing month. Christmas is over, money is tight and strict regimes are being imposed to tackle the festive overindulgence. Personally, I am taking the ‘Dry January’ message to mean that this month, my alcohol choices will be mainly Dry Gin. The ‘clean-eating’ trend the masses are adhering to this year also seems to me, quite sensible – if dinner is eaten in the bath, chance of inevitable spillages on clothes is eliminated. This is what they call a win win situation.

But having got used to the lights, sparkles and decorations, London looks fairly naked. Christmas away from the capital begins as a novelty, and then you realise that actually, being able to get a pint of milk in two minutes, have decent coffee on every street corner, and not be affected by insane amounts flooding is pretty appealing. In line with the depressing fact that is the rise in travel fares, a bleak sense of ‘back to work’ reverberates in the tube carriages –  the only vague source of consolation is the fact that Tottenham Court Road station is finally open (it’s the small things people).

And to top it all off, two of the country’s most talented stars sadly passed away this week: David Bowie and Alan Rickman, both at 69, sadly lost their battles to cancer. This just may be the icing on the cake, the thing to tip those already struggling with the new gym routine, the lack of alcohol, and the utterly depressing weather, completely over the edge. No wine, no sun and now THIS?  The reaction to Alan Rickman’s and particularly David Bowie’s deaths  has been phenomenal, especially in the capital: perhaps because Bowie was a Londoner through and through; perhaps because he made such an impact on music; probably, too because Bowie showed that to stray from convention and to define yourself as an individual was not only possible, but admirable and inspirational. I had the pleasure of visiting the V&A’s ‘David Bowie Is’ exhibition a few years back, and to this day I think it is one of the best museum exhibitions I’ve seen.  Not only did I see the epic Ziggy Stardust bodysuit, on show were also handwritten lyrics and even Bowie’s diary entries, offering a snapshot into the innermost thoughts of the superstar. It was clear from ‘David Bowie Is’ that there isn’t a great deal that David Bowie Isn’t , or, now, that David Bowie Wasn’t.

On Monday, Brixton, where David was born, was awash with fans who wanted to show their respects to the Starman. An area which (for now, at least) exists as an un-gentrified hub of culture and colour that still maintains a sense of the ‘real London’ was suddenly centre stage and thriving. Indeed, the star and his achievements are very much tied up with his life in the city: there is even rumour of the fourth plinth being dedicated to Bowie. We can but hope…

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Not only Londoners, but the world, were and still are, devastated. Having heard the news, I couldn’t help bring it up when I met a friend at London’s Barbican Centre.

‘Aren’t you really upset about Bowie?’ I asked her, ‘I can’t believe he’s died!’

‘Not really’, she answered. ‘I never knew the man. He’s died, but my life’s not changed. I can still admire him, enjoy his music… What’s the point of wasting time being upset about someone we didn’t know – we should be celebrating him, and just continuing to listen to his songs’.

I have to say, these are words of wisdom: our lives are none the poorer for having lost an icon like Bowie. Of course when someone loses their life, especially to cancer, it is no doubt an intensely sad event: but shouldn’t we just be grateful that Bowie made his music in the first place? The fact that we all have the benefit of being able to listen to his songs, enjoy his films, just as before, should be at the forefront. The world may have lost a London born superstar, but this is not cause for tears: this is time to say ‘Let’s Dance’.

Money Money Money: Why the Hike in Theatre Prices?

Happy days

After a day at work staring at a screen, most people like nothing more than to come back home and, um, stare at a screen… Usually, this is from the comfort of a sofa or a bed, and more often than not involves, increasingly, watching the film/TV series via the world wide web as opposed to a DVD.

Whereas before, a cinema trip may have been a natural way to absorb a few hours entertainment of an evening, a rise in ticket prices coupled with vast developments of online, on-demand viewing platforms have meant that the cinema is now often reserved for Special Occasions. Just as going to the cinema has seen a rise in prices, so too has the theatre, a report has just announced.

Given the choice, I’d pick theatre over cinema any day of the week. There is something so gripping about a story being played out before your eyes, a few metres away, in which anything could happen. Without the novelty of multiple takes, or the fluidity of editing, the entertainment is somehow much fresher and more real. Add in the live music and the excitement of being in an historic venue, and a visit to the theatre is suddenly a fully immersive trip from curtain up until final bows. A precious few hours away from the digital world in which to watch non-pixelated people play out a story is, in our ever screen-ruled lives, most welcome and definitely needed. Why, then is the theatre becoming less affordable?

Despite the fact that touring shows are proving successful in allowing those without easy access to London to witness award-winning entertainment, the cost of attending is at an all-time high. Geographically, then, theatre is becoming more widely available: the monetary side of it, however, is increasingly limiting. This hike has been caused primarily by funding cuts for the arts from council and government grants.

According to a UK Theatre report, in the West End the average price of a single ticket has risen 5.1% to £42.29; this figure also reflects the customer’s growing preference to opt for higher-priced seats. Over £40 is, admittedly, fairly steep for a couple of hours of entertainment, no matter how spectacular. Essentially, for the same price I could buy two boxsets, four cinema tickets or over 6 months’ subscription to Netflix.

If these prices continue to escalate, soon the theatre will be a luxury for the wealthy, and will further alienate those who could most benefit from it; the underprivileged, the young, the ageing. Some institutions such as the National Theatre run a scheme which offers £5 tickets to those 16-24 year olds signed up to their ‘Entry Pass’ initiative: the Barbican run a similar youth discount programme. These schemes should, however, not be the exception, but commonplace; enabling affordable options to those who want to witness top-class theatre.

I am not denying that it is possible to go to theatre for less; usually involving substantial luck or rigorous research. Of course, day tickets, queuing up at dawn, severely restricted view seats offer cheaper tickets for London shows, but these are often difficult to come by, or fairly uncomfortable (and a bit of a trek to the ice-cream stall in the interval). My advice – sign up to every initiative available and even risk the bad views for a cheap trip. Take some time out, once every couple of months, to leave the screen and see the stage: maybe an increase in popularity is the only way to convince The Man that theatre should be a funding priority, and lower ticket prices a necessity . Whether this is to be or not to be, however, is the question…